New research may answer why people who are overweight face severe COVID-19 risk

The coronavirus can directly infect fat cells, offering potential clues as to why people who are overweight and obese face higher risks of severe illness and death from COVID-19, according to research reported by The New York Times Dec. 8. 

Using fat tissue obtained from bariatric surgery patients, the research team, led by scientists from Stanford (Calif.) University School of Medicine, conducted experiments to see if the tissue could become infected. The researchers found that fat cells could be directly infected and the infection triggered an inflammatory response associated with severe COVID-19.They also looked at fat tissue from the bodies of European patients who died from COVID-19 and found the virus in fat near various organs. The study was published in the preprint server bioRxiv in October. 

"The bottom line is, 'Oh my god, indeed, the virus can infect fat cells directly,'" Philipp Scherer, PhD, a scientist who studies fat cells at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and who was not involved in the research, told the Times. "Whatever happens in fat doesn't stay in fat. It affects the neighboring tissues as well." 

Patients who are overweight and obese often have other accompanying heatlh conditions such as diabetes that put them at higher risk of severe COVID-19, though these preliminary findings suggest obesity alone may be the reason some people are more vulnerable to serious illness. 

The study's authors also said the evidence may lead to new COVID-19 treatments that pinpoint body fat.

To read the full New York Times article, click here.


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